Strike threat over cuts to emergency alarm services for older people at home

Cuts to a lifeline alarm service are putting vulnerable older people in danger, a union has warned, amid reports that families are being pressured to respond in emergencies.

Unite said they have seen an increase in major incidents as a result of cuts at a telecare service which responds when an alarm is sounded by an elderly person after a fall or accident.

The union said workers who attend the calls for help reported them not being picked up for hours – with some people being left overnight.

Vulnerable older people who have an alarm or pendant which detect if they have fallen rely on emergency telecare services to live safely at home.

Cuts to a lifeline alarm service are putting vulnerable older people in danger, a union has warned.

But after call handling for the service was outsourced to London, Unite claims it is causing ‘chaos’ and resulting in significant delays.

The union warned family members are being contacted and asked to respond first with reports from pressured relatives of having to ‘drag’ people across the floor because they struggled to lift them.

It comes after call handling at the monitoring and response service previously operated by the council was outsourced to Newham Council in May.

Other cost-saving changes have resulted in shortages that have seen staff cut by half from two teams down to one, the union said.

Mary Alexander from Unite union

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Since the call handling was outsourced it has been reported that calls for help often remain in the system for 40 minutes before even being notified to workers.

Further delays are caused while teams are being asked to attend call outs at opposite ends of the city – when other nearby workers could respond faster.

Staff also said officers are being forced to attend deaths and emergencies alone despite two being required to attend serious incidents for safety reasons; with one to help the person while the other calls an ambulance.

Unite raised a collective grievance in January ahead of the changes being introduced. But they claim their concerns have been ignored. A ballot begins on Wednesday for a possible walk out over the cuts.

Mary Alexander, deputy regional secretary at Unite, said: “Vulnerable clients are being put at risk because of the length of time to respond and undue pressures being put on families to attend first.

“Our members have given their all during the pandemic to keep their vulnerable clients safe. It is only their dedication and commitment that keeps the service going.”

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary said: “Make no mistake about this, lives are at risk. Our members in Edinburgh’s Monitoring and Response Unit have simply had enough of the chaos. This is directly due to service cuts and the outsourcing of call handling to Newham Borough Council, in London, almost 400 miles away.

"The workers deserve the support of Edinburgh’s citizens because this is a fight not only about better jobs, pay and conditions, but a better service for the most vulnerable people in the city.”

A spokesperson for the EHSCP said: “We are aware of the concerns that have been raised by Unite on behalf of their members. We are wholeheartedly committed to actively working with staff and the Union to resolve this issue without the need for strike action.”